The Interview: Political Satire Has Rarely Ever Been So 'Meh'


The Interview, the most controversial movie of the year, the ribald satire that ratcheted up tensions with a nuclear-armed psycho-state, the film that taught Barack Obama free expression is worth defending even in the face of vague threats by faceless terrorists, is a mildly and intermittently amusing experience at best. 

In case you are unaware of the premise, per IMDB.com:

Cool story, bro.

Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport run the celebrity tabloid show "Skylark Tonight." When they land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip to Pyongyang into an assassination mission.

As a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg joint (SPOILERS AHEAD), you know it's going to have its share of casual drug use, homoerotic prop humor, ironic spasms of ultraviolence, and a bromantic ending. But other than a few scattered references to "concentration camps, famine and firing squads," the horrors of North Korea are seldom mentioned and never seen.

But that's okay, it's a comedy right? About that. 

Seth Rogen delivers a reliably funny and affable performance as Rapoport, a TV producer who once harbored aspirations to participate in the "serious journalism" game. He curses, he overreacts, he makes fun of himself, and is generally a sympathetic figure when trying to manage Skylark (played by James Franco), the vapid and bombastic host of his own entertainment interview show.

Rogen and Franco have performed together in numerous productions going all the way back to 1999's cult classic show Freaks and Geeks, but here they seem to be performing in different movies. It's hard to know if co-director Rogen deserves the blame for this, but Franco's decision to play Skylark as "Jim Carrey meets Lothario" never works, is always distracting, and frequently puts the brakes on any comedic momentum the movie seems to be building toward. 

The film takes an interesting turn (MAJOR SPOILERS COMING) when Rapoport is seduced by a gorgeous North Korean propaganda officer who convinces the American duo that Kim is a replaceable figurehead. What the North Koreans really need, she tells them, is to see Kim and his cult of personality unmasked as the cowardly frauds they are. Skylark accepts that he has been a fraud as a journalist himself, and promises to learn some facts about Kim to use against him in a devastating televised interview. But then they kill him anyway with his own tank after Kim reacts violently, triggering a bloodbath, a ticking-bomb countdown, and the requisite chase scene. 

As light entertainment, particularly for those with a favorable view of Apatow-ian humor, The Interview has a few genuine laughs, and despite more false endings than the heavily-referenced Lord of the Rings, moves along breezily. 

As political satire, it's toothless and aimless. The Interview never promises you it's going to be Dr. Strangelove, but I guess I was hoping Rogen would satirize Stalinist totalitarianism with the same rapier wit he used to goof on himself and his self-important Hollywood friends in last year's hit This Is the End.

You will not find me among the conspiracy theorists positing that the whole "Sony hack/email leak/terrorist threat" was an elaborate hoax perpetrated to generate buzz for The Interview. Despite dominating the news cycle for the past week and pulling in $1 million in it's on demand release, Sony is still expected to lose tens of millions on the film and its wishy-washy reactions to the threats have throughly damaged the corporation's reputation.

That said, this uneven film with fewer laughs than the average South Park episode is now a cultural touchstone because of a still unfolding political soap opera whose ending has not yet been written